THE OIL OF LANIUS
Copyright Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus, Joxer and other characters mentioned in this story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction and no profit is sought from this. The same goes for any song lyrics I have borrowed. It’s just for fun!
Violence Disclaimer: There is a little violence in this chapter (Xena does work through her frustrations!) but extensive descriptions of the aftermath of the violence contained in Chapter 2. Please do not read if you feel that would distress you.
Subtext disclaimer: Gabrielle and Xena are lovers. There is no graphic sex in this Fiction. If this bothers you (the lovers’ part rather than the lack of graphic action, but I am guessing that will bother some!) or is illegal for you to read in your neck of the woods, please do not continue.
Hurt/Comfort Disclaimer: Definitely fits into this genre. If you feel it would distress you, please do not continue.
Author’s note (1) Thank you to the kind people who have sent me e-mails. I do appreciate them greatly. Comments, tips, hints and constructive criticisms will be most welcome. Please send to email@example.com. I will reply.
Author’s note (2) This fan fiction is set after season 3, but it disregards season 4. Gabrielle and Xena have been reunited but there is no Alti, India or vision.
Tag Line After the terrible recent events, Gabrielle and Xena gradually try to rebuild their life together. However, the Bard’s recovery is not as straightforward as Xena hoped.
I was bruised and battered
and I couldn't tell
What I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window I didn't know
My own face
Ain't no angel gonna greet
It's just you and I my friend
My clothes don't fit me no more
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip this skin
Bruce Spingsteen-Streets of Philidelphia
Ephiny dismounted her horse, and inhaled deeply. It was dusk. They had made good time. She looked across at Solari who smiled and nodded. Then just as Ephiny looked towards Epinon who was gazing around the village as if seeing it for the first time, her smile faded. She walked towards Aella and Clonie who waited in the centre of the village. Aella greeted her friend warmly. It was a rarity that Gabrielle, Ephiny, Epinon and Solari, the four most powerful women in the village were all away from it simultaneously. Ephiny had and would trust Aella with her life. However Aella took the mantle of leadership reluctantly.
“It’s good to see you Eph,” said Aella.
Ephiny returned the affectionate hug. She looked at the carts that had been part of the procession entering the village with dejection.
Aella’s voice cut into her introspection. “How did things go?”
“Xena is no longer a rampaging warlord, if that’s what you are wondering.” Ephiny smiled weakly. It was plain to her friend there was a lot more to this tale. “The challis has been smashed and everyone returned to normal.” She looked back at Epinon who was staring at the ground and the weary throng of people around the carts.
She turned towards Clonie, Piri’s apprentice. “Are the queen’s hut and guest hut set up?”
“Yes, Ephiny. The runner sent word that there were injuries. Shall I assist Piri?”
“Thank you Clonie, I imagine she’ll require your help.” The women watched Clonie walk towards the carts.
“Eph?” said Aella in a questioning tone.
“Xena the warlord encountered Pony, Selene, Amarice and Karys. They’re not injured-but they were infected by blood lust and darkness too.” Ephiny spoke quickly as she saw Aella’s horrified face. She swallowed and continued, “The queen and Iolaus-“they both looked back at the carts and watched as Gabrielle was lifted out on a stretcher and carried towards the Queen’s hut. “Were hurt. Badly.”
“Oh Eph. I’m sorry.” She knew how much Gabrielle meant to the regent.
“Artemis help them,” she added and placed her hand on Ephiny in support.
“Oh we met her,” said Ephiny, smiling, and aware of Aella’s amazed look. “She had a nice... Bow. Any problems?”
“Nothing major. “ Aella continued to stare at Ephiny in disbelief. “Artemis.” Her voice faded, and to Ephiny’s amusement she whispered their Goddess’s name several times as if she expected her to appear. She then shook her head. “Clonie had to set an arm, do a few stitches. The usual grumbles from the usual suspects.”
“Thanks, I really appreciate it.” Ephiny lost her smile as her eyes followed Gabrielle until she was out of sight.
“There are things that need to be sorted,” she said quietly. “Council.” The word hung in air. Aella nodded sympathetically.
“Not tonight. You’ve travelled for the last day. “Have a rest Eph, you’ll feel better in the morning,” said Aella.
Ephiny patted her arm in reply and slowly walked towards the queen’s hut.
“Gently people,” said Piri. “Hold it there.”
Xena pulled back the covers of the bed and turned to face the stretcher. She put one hand on Gabrielle’s hair and gently stroked it. “OK, I’m going to lift you into bed.” Xena was doubtful whether the bard could hear her; she had been given sedatives throughout the journey and had not woken once. It had allowed them to move quickly and get to the security of the village.
A couple of Amazons stepped forward but Piri gave them a hard look. They stepped back but watched Xena intensely
“Here we go.” Xena gently gathered Gabrielle in her arms and pivoted. She laid her in bed, covered her up and perched on the side.
“Well done everyone. Go and have a rest, you deserve it,” said Piri.
None of them made a move and everyone was statuesque as Ephiny walked in.
She looked around the hut. “What’s up?”
“Piri has told us we can go,” said Thea, “and-“
“Xena can be left with Gabrielle. They don’t need a chaperone any more.” Ephiny sniggered, but became serious as she realised no one else laughed. “There will be the usual guards outside the queen’s hut. If Xena leaves the village she will have a detail following her.” She spoke with authority and the amazons nodded and trooped out of the hut leaving them.
“How is she?” said Ephiny turning to Piri.
“The same as when you asked a few minutes ago,” said Piri neutrally. Ephiny scowled at her, and gently lent across and stroked the blond hair.
“Go to bed,” said Piri more gently.
“What about you two?”
“We’re going to change her bandages. Dress some wounds. Bring this fever down.”
Ephiny looked from one to the other. Xena was staring at Gabrielle holding her hand.
“It’s a long job; do you want me to stay?”
“No Eph, you’ve done so much, thank you. Get some rest.” Xena said and turned to face her.
“Xena,” Ephiny looked awkward. “Are you sure you want to be present?”
Xena swallowed and nodded silently.
Ephiny gently kissed Gabrielle on the forehead and made her way out of the hut.
Only then did Xena pull back the sheets that were covering Gabrielle. She exchanged a look with Piri and the healer nodded and whilst Xena started to remove the long tunic that adorned her, Piri gathered all the supplies they would need. They had changed some bandages on the journey, but Xena had yet to see the full extent of Gabrielle’s injuries. Her practised eyes took in every cut, scrape and mark. Piri placed a hand on Xena’s arm. The warrior looked at it and then its owner. “Why don’t you step outside for a moment?” she said gently.
Xena stared at her.
Piri closed her eyes and said shakily, “There are some things a partner shouldn’t see.”
Xena looked down at Gabrielle and swallowed. “I’ll stay” she said in a hoarse whisper. “I need, I need to do this.”
They efficiently and carefully cleaned all the bite and scratch marks, before Piri gently cleaned between the bard’s legs and changed the padding. Xena was silent during this, and when Piri looked up at her, she saw her face was wet with tears. Xena quickly wiped her eyes with one hand and smiled weakly. “Sorry,” she said.
Piri smiled. “Just need to get more of this concoction into her. The fever won’t break tonight.”
“I’ll stay up with her,” said Xena quickly.
“As will I,” replied the healer. “I’m going to check on Iolaus although I imagine Joxer and Clonie will have it organised. She’s very good, and so is he.”
“I think Joxer the Mighty has found his niche in life. After Gabrielle was lost to us, he said he wanted to make her proud, give up his warrior ways, so he went to train with Hippocrates.”
“It’s done him a world of good,” said Piri warmly.
Xena closed her eyes for a moment. “Her hand?”
“We need to look at it within a few days.” Piri took a deep breath in. “That will be traumatic. I’ll be back later.”
Piri gazed at Gabrielle before exiting the hut. Xena walked to the table and poured herself a drink before settling in a chair next to the bed.
“Can we come in?”
“Hang on a moment.” Xena smoothed the clean night shift over Gabrielle and gently laid her down in the bed. “Come in guys,” she shouted.
Joxer and Hercules emerged shyly through the door. Xena rose from the bed, dropped the damp bedclothes on the floor and gave Hercules a hug. He held onto her and could feel the shudders. Meanwhile Joxer sat down next to the sleeping Gabrielle and was gently stroking her hair.
“Fever’s down?” He asked.
Xena nodded. “Hopefully this time for good.”
“How are you?” Said Hercules.
“I’m fine,” said Xena brusquely.
“You don’t look it,” said Hercules. “Have you left this hut?”
“Xena, take a break. Go and see Argo, do some drilling, anything” said Joxer, not looking up from Gabrielle.
“Is this the first time you’ve been out?” Xena asked pointedly.
The men exchanged an embarrassed glance and then both looked at the floor.
“She’s been so sick,” whispered Xena in anguish. “The fever lasted for longer than we thought. I didn’t want-“She stopped and turned away.
Hercules strode to her and hugged her. “We’re sorry.”
“No I am. How’s Iolaus?”
The men exchanged a glance again.
“What’s wrong?” asked Xena worriedly.
“I never knew you could talk so much with a broken jaw,” said Hercules.
“The human body is amazing,” said Joxer. “But Iolaus is stretching it.”
“We’ve escaped,” said Hercules with a hint of shame. “He’s obviously getting better, as he’s moaning all the time. And he’s started to give orders.”
Hercules’ mouth quivered and he caught Xena’s eye and she sniggered. It felt so good to laugh at something-anything-with friends.
“So I take it he’s improving?”
“Oh yes!” said the men in unison!
Xena strode to a table and filled three mugs of wine.
“To their health.” They said as they clinked their mugs.
Several hours had passed and other than eating her dinner that was brought to her, Xena remained still watching for any movement from the bard. She noticed green eyes flutter open and watched as the bard tried to orientate herself. She took her hand and gently rubbed it.
“Hey,” she said. Gabrielle turned her head slowly to face her. Her face was screwed up with pain.
Xena bent down and gently kissed her lips. “Hey, back.” There was a subtle smile which warmed Xena’s heart. “Do you want some water?” Gabrielle gave a faint nod and yet again Xena supported her while she drank. She settled her back on the pillows aware of the pain that Gabrielle was in.
“How are you feeling?”
“Washed out and sore.” Gabrielle looked around slowly. “We’re in the village? How long?”
“We’ve been here a few days.”
“How long?” Questioned a surprised Gabrielle, before wincing.
“We sedated you both to travel,” said Xena gently stroking the blonde hair. “Then you had a fever. Iolaus is in the guest hut with Hercules and Joxer.”
Gabrielle swallowed uncomfortably. “How is he?” asked the bard. Her voice was still croaky and hoarse.
“He’s getting there.”
“Good.” Gabrielle breathed a small sigh and closed her eyes. Xena had noticed the tense way she held her body and her face was showing the stress.
“I’m going to get you something for the pain, OK”
Xena left her seat and fetched a small bottle from the table. Again propping Gabrielle up she helped her while she drunk the contents.
“It’s not a sedative, but should help with the pain. Where does it hurt?” she asked gently. Fool, she thought, she had seen the injuries, but she just didn’t know what to say. All her brain could think of was the run of the mill, routine questions.
“I think telling you where it doesn’t hurt would take less time,” said Gabrielle wearily.
“You’ve not lost your sense of humour, that’s good,” said Xena with a relieved smile and she brought the bard’s hand to her mouth for a kiss. Gabrielle wore a look of concentration and said, “My right ear is pain free.” They both giggled and Xena bent down and kissed the uninjured ear. She sat back down and carried on holding Gabrielle’s hand.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and then she opened it after a moment.
“Have you slept at all?” She asked with a hint of concern in her voice. “You look awful Xena!”
“Thanks!” Xena gave a chuckle. Typical of Gabrielle to be worried about her. “I’m fine. I’m more worried about you. You don’t look so good yourself.” Gabrielle nodded and shut her eyes again. The pain mixture had yet to kick in and she was fighting to keep the pain under control. Everywhere hurt, and she tried not to think of the pain or who caused it. She inhaled and felt Xena stroke her face and neck. Images of her performing the pinch flashed through her head, her breathing grew ragged and her eyes snapped open. She saw Xena looking at her with concern and a hint of fear, and her hands left Gabrielle as if burnt. They stared at each other for a few moments. Gabrielle knew she would have to make the first move; she couldn’t bear for Xena’s walls to be erected again; for her to become with her the stoic, monosyllabic warrior she was with everyone else; to look at her with dull, emotionless eyes again; for the warrior’s mask to be in place.
“Xena,” she whispered. “It wasn’t the real you. It wasn’t your choice. You drank from the challis to save my life.”
“And I nearly took it from you.” Xena rubbed her hand through her hair and looked around the hut, trying to focus on anything but Gabrielle. “How can you touch me? How can you bare to look at me?” she whispered to the bard.
“It wasn’t the real you,” said Gabrielle, again.
“Yes it was! I’ve done it before, haven’t I?” Xena’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. She then whispered, “I hurt you. I hurt Iolaus. I killed innocent people.”
“If there had been a speck of you in that body you wouldn’t have done those things.” Xena tried to move away but Gabrielle reached for her arm, suppressing a moan as she did.
“Xe please don’t move any more.” Xena looked at her blankly but stopped moving and held still. Gabrielle held her tighter, ignoring the pain in her arms, hand and from her broken ribs.
They looked at each other, blue eyes meeting green and saw their love, their bond, reflected in each other’s orbs. Both sets contained fear and apprehension too. Gabrielle smiled weakly and defying the agony shooting through her body held her arms out wide. She felt Xena put her head on her chest and she wrapped her arms around her tightly. Xena cried and cried. They stayed like that for what seemed liked hours. Gabrielle’s muscles were twitching with the exertion but she was determined to keep hold of her precious cargo. Eventually Xena pulled away slightly, although she was still cradled in the bard’s arms. “Why don’t you hate me? I put the pinch on you. I let Lindos-“
“Xena don’t.” Gabrielle interrupted sharply. She didn’t want to talk about what happened during those nights, certainly not now with an emotional warrior princess. Not ever if she could help it. Xena stared at her, blue eyes full of fear and self loathing, but in the emerald eyes she only saw love and concern.
“How can we get through this?” Xena shook her head. The guilt still weighed heavy on her. Seeing Gabrielle’s terrible injuries close up and being present as wracked by fever, Gabrielle relived those terrible days had heaped more misery onto the warrior’s already enormous burden.
“Like we always do: together.” Gabrielle’s voice was becoming a whisper as she was tiring. “Xena you had no choice, you were manipulated.”
“I didn’t have to torture you, to kill innocent people.” Xena saw all the images flash through her mind. She had pushed them to one side, told herself it wasn’t her fault. Gods she had even more to make up for. The rivers of blood were never ending.
“And what did everyone else do, Xena?” The bard’s voice was angry. “What makes you so special that you should be able to control your actions whilst everyone else can’t?” Xena looked away unwilling to acknowledge the bard was right. “What did Pony and the others do? Say no I can fight this darkness. Or everyone who has ever drunk from the challis? Did they say I won’t fight my kin even though I feel I should? Of course not. None of you had any choice in the matter. Accept that Xena. YOU DIDN’T HAVE A CHOICE.” Gabrielle poked Xena’s chest after each word to highlight it. “It’s not like after M’lila,” she said gently.
Xena put her head down again and sobbed. After several minutes she stuck her head up.
“Xena you know you didn’t have a choice. That none of you did. Don’t take this guilt.” She smiled lovingly. “In your heart you know it isn’t your guilt. You are just so used to taking it on your shoulders. Well, this isn’t yours.” Gabrielle slumped back on the bed breathing as deeply as she could, tired out by her long passionate speech.
“Love you,” Xena said with a slight smile.
The bard smiled back and Xena could see how uncomfortable she was and desperately trying not to show how much pain she was in. “I don’t deserve you,” the warrior said.
“But you’re stuck with me. You promised, remember. Even in death…”
“I’d never leave you. Xena laced her fingers through Gabrielle’s. “You sure you want to stay with me.” Her tone was wistful, the vulnerability showing through. “After all this, what I’ve done.”
“Did you blame me when I became a bacchae?”
“That was different.”
Xena opened her mouth and shut it again. The clever bard had won that little argument too.
“Xena I don’t know how many times I have to repeat myself. It wasn’t you. You didn’t choose to get infected, and once you were you had nothing to fight it with.”
“But my darkness-“
“Hercules said it didn’t matter how much darkness you had, the effects was just the same.”
“No, it’s not that.” Xena looked down at the two hands still held together tightly. “I worry about my darkness I carry with me all the time. I’ve hurt you before.” There was a pause as they both remembered the events that had almost torn them apart.
“But the circumstances were extraordinary, Xena.” Gabrielle said shakily
Xena looked up into Gabrielle’s concerned face and looked away. “I know but sometimes I feel like I can’t escape from Ares. That’ll he’ll always be with me, and I’ll answer his call.” She whispered earnestly, one of biggest fears exposed
“Xena, he had to strip everything away and leave only darkness to get you back. He had the shell of the woman we love, that I love.” Gabrielle squeezed Xena’s hand and the warrior turned to look at her. “I feel sorry for him. He thinks he had you, but the reality is it was just an empty vessel he had and not the real Xena of Amphibolis.”
Xena’s mouth quivered, but she was determined not to cry again. Gods she had shed more tears in these last few months than in the previous ten years. She knew she would always feel guilty for what had happened, but Gabrielle’s forgiveness meant so much. It was a beginning.
There was a comfortable silence
“Tell me how are you feeling with everything that has happened?”Xena asked softly.
Gabrielle smiled weakly at her. How could she tell her what she felt? Dirty, used, alone, terrified of everything and everyone. She believed what she told Xena, she was not to blame, but as she shut her eyes she could see Xena, Epinon and the others torturing her. She could feel unsolicited hands over her. She blocked out the painful thoughts and opened her eyes and swallowed.
“Just weary,” she answered. That was true, although not the whole truth.
Xena gently stoked her hair. “You know what I mean,” she said with a half smile. “Tell me.”
Gabrielle looked into the blue eyes that no longer radiated fear, but love and concern. Oh Gods, she couldn’t talk about it, not yet. She had to think of something, anything to keep Xena happy. She mentally laughed. Were these the thoughts Xena had when dealing with her incessant questions? She inhaled as deeply as her painful ribs would allow and shut her eyes. Her emotional pain would wait. She didn’t want to analyse what happened and certainly she couldn’t lay it on Xena. The warrior’s emotional state was so fragile at the moment; Gabrielle feared it would send her spiralling into the despair that Gabrielle had just worked so hard to keep her out. Think Bard, think. Spin a story. She smiled imperceptibly.
“Argo saved my life.” Xena looked quizzically at her. “She butted Lind-that man so I could escape.” Xena squeezed her hand gently in encouragement. “I was so pleased to see her.” They shared a smile. “She was so placid, trotted at a gentle pace, I even passed out on the way to Renwa but she took me safely to Joxer, Hercules and Iolaus.”
Xena’s eyes radiated concern. “Go on,” she said quietly.
“She didn’t play me up at all. She knew I was struggling.”
“When you headed from Renwa, you mean?” Xena’s stomach dropped. What the bard had gone through because of her.
“Yep, she understood she had to be good.
Of course having a good looking stallion coming with us helped. And Iolaus’
horse of course.”
”Ha, ha. Very funny,” They both gave a little smile. Gabrielle shut her eyes, tiredness beginning to overtake her, but she had to, no wanted to get this little bit out.
“She was such a comfort Xena. She never wandered far from me. She missed you dreadfully. We both did.”
Gabrielle turned and smiled weakly at Xena who was looking thoughtful.
“I’m sorry,” said Xena simply.
Gabrielle nodded and tried to position herself as comfortably as she could.
“Sleep now,” Xena said.
“What about you?” slurred Gabrielle, tiredness overtaking her. She patted the bed gently.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” replied Xena, but she looked hungrily at the bed. Gabrielle nodded and Xena edged into the bed. She stroked Gabrielle’s cheek but by the time she rolled over to say goodnight the bard was snoring gently. Xena settled down and within minutes she fell into the best sleep she had in days.
Soon enough it was dawn and Piri and Ephiny entered the hut. The previous days had been fraught with Gabrielle’s fever testing their patience. They could see immediately that some of the tension was lifted. Xena was bustling about looking slightly more cheery and although Gabrielle was asleep it was a natural sleep and there was no longer heat radiating from her.
Ephiny went straight to Gabrielle and bent over her. She gently caressed her cheek. She exchanged a glance with Xena and then broke into a huge smile as the green eyes were suddenly visible. “Gab,” said Ephiny in a chocked voice. Gabrielle smiled at her friend and instinctively looked around for Xena. “She’s next to me don’t worry. She won’t move from here.”
“Tattle tail,” said Xena with humour in her voice. She too wore a smile for Gabrielle. She picked up a water skin and gave it to Ephiny. She again supported Gabrielle and Ephiny helped her drink. Xena gently laid her back down and Gabrielle smiled at them both.
“Thanks,” she said. Her voice was stronger than last night Xena noted happily. “This is not the welcome home I wanted to be giving you,” said Ephiny.
“You’ll still figure a way of having a party,” said Gabrielle laughing.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. We could carry you where ever you needed to go. Just like Cleopatra.”
The friends locked eyes. “Thanks,” said Gabrielle.
“Like I said, I’m not going to counteract a command from the queen. Just get well soon. Then we can have that party.” Ephiny picked up Gabrielle’s hand and held it. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I was used as Amazon drums at a party,” said Gabrielle with a moan.
At this both Piri and Xena glanced anxiously at her.
“Care to elaborate my Queen?” asked Piri.
“I think that sums it up quite succinctly. No drums at the next party, I’m coming out in sympathy with them.” Gabrielle closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing and missed the furious looks the three other women were giving each other. Ephiny was shaking her head in the direction of the door and Xena was shaking her head vigorously. Piri looked on with annoyance and then pointed at Gabrielle.
“My Queen, later we need to examine your hand.” At this Gabrielle’s eyes snapped open and Ephiny and Xena stared at the healer.
“What’s wrong Piri?” Asked Gabrielle. “Didn’t you have a chance to examine it earlier?”
The healer looked worried. “We needed you to be conscious to assess how much damage was done, and the swelling was too great.”
Gabrielle nodded. She turned to Xena. “Will you be here?”
“Of course, I won’t leave you,” spluttered Xena in surprise.
“Go and take Argo for a run, now then. Do some drills, I know you want to.”
Xena shook her head.
“You want to,” said Gabrielle simply. They looked at each other. Xena felt torn. She didn’t want to leave Gabrielle but the thought of galloping off with Argo leaving these four walls for a short time was so inviting. She nodded.
“I won’t be long.” Said Xena and she bent down and kissed the bard.
She walked slowly turning at every pace to gaze at the bard until she finally exited the hut.
“Xena wait.” Xena had only descended one step before she heard Ephiny’s voice. “I’ll walk you to the stables,” said the regent. There was a silence for a few moments as Ephiny composed herself.
“I’m sorry Xena, but Council will want to talk to you.” Ephiny’s tone was low and she looked around furtively as if concerned at being overheard.
Xena said nothing, her eyes riveted to the ground.
“The charges are serious; attacking the queen, and with your history…” Ephiny’s voice trailed off.
“Will Gabrielle be involved?” asked Xena and her eyes rose to meet Ephiny’s.
“Not if I can help it. Piri can give medical evidence, there were other people there.”
“What could happen?”
“This is just information gathering, you are not on trial.”
“Yeah, right,” said Xena viciously. “I’ll take whatever punishment that is set, but my first concern is Gabrielle.”
“And so is mine,” whispered Ephiny harshly. “Think about it Xena. Gabrielle’s critically injured after a brave and fearless act. No one can say she is too weak to be an Amazon Queen now. Her enemies need a vulnerability-you. Persuade council to put you on trial for all your atrocities against the Amazons, divide the tribe.”
Xena paled. Her atrocities. If only they knew everything she had inflicted on the Amazon nation. She mentally shook herself and focused in on what Ephiny was saying.
“-with Hercules and Pony giving evidence for you, there shouldn’t be a problem. We’ve got enough on our side on Council. It’s just-“
“The stink it creates,” added Xena. She looked back at the hut. “When?”
“Day after tomorrow.”
“I don’t want Gabrielle involved. She’s been too sick.”
“Thank you Ephiny.”
“Enjoy your ride. You know that you’ll have a shadow.”
“If they can keep up!” Xena gave a toothy grin.
After being cooped up for so long riding Argo was exhilarating. She let the horse have her head and she enjoyed the sensation of being taken along for the ride. The wind swept through her hair, and she breathed the forest scents in deeply. She was conscious of two amazons straining to keep up, and she grinned and decided to take pity on them. She stopped at a small clearing and removed the saddle from Argo. After having a long drink from the waterskin she picked up her sword and started to slowly move it from side to side. It gradually got quicker until it became an intricate dance of metal. After several minutes she stopped abruptly.
“You can come out now, I hear ya,” she shouted. An arrow appeared from the trees which Xena lazily caught and snapped with her right hand.
Four Amazons dropped from the trees.
“Welcome ladies,” said Xena as she started to drill slowly again, never taking her eyes off of the four.
“Xena ,” said one.
“Why am I not surprised that it’s you Aida?”
“One of your many skills?” asked the red headed Amazon and motioned with her head. Immediately the other three surrounded Xena.
Xena smiled. These were odds she liked. And the mood she was in this would be a pleasure.
She engaged the first, a small Amazon whose name she didn’t know. After a couple of parries Xena became bored and reversed her sword and rammed the hilt into her face. She fell to her knees clutching her nose that was now streaming with blood. This enraged the other three and they rushed her at once. Aida who fought with chobos attacked from the front, but before she could get close enough to make contact, Xena launched herself at her and connected solidly with her boot in her stomach. Xena used this momentum to launch upwards over the top of the amazons who were creeping behind her. Before they could react Xena had swept the feet of Charope and elbowed the fourth in the stomach.
“Well girls ready for some more?” asked Xena grinning as all four tried to get their breath back. “Try harder next time!” She felt invigorated and alive. She was happy for more.
Her words had enraged Aida, and she quickly drew her bow and fired an arrow at Xena. Xena caught it a foot from her chest and threw it on the floor. Aida was about to draw a second when they all heard a shout.
Two horses came into view, and Aella and Walia dismounted. Aella looked in disgust at the four injured Amazons.
“Thank you ladies, for giving me a moderate workout,” drawled Xena looking at her nails. “Next time I would prefer something more” she looked directly at Aida who snarled, “vigorous”.
“Back. Now.” Said Aella and shook her head at Walia. The younger Amazon ensured they had retrieved their belongings and started to walk away from the clearing.
Aella turned to look at the warrior princess. As usual she was immaculate as if she had been for a country stroll. She felt foolish for asking but knew she must. “Are you ok?”
Xena seemed to sense her hesitance. “Fine thanks. I must commend Ephiny for laying on these pleasant diversions.”
Aella’s mouth quivered but she didn’t laugh. They both mounted and headed back to the village.
“You are looking so well.” Xena smiled as she gazed at Iolaus. She had stopped off in his hut after giving Argo a good rub down and brush. She knew that Gabrielle would ask after him.
“Thank you,” said the blonde. His face was a multicoloured mass of bruising, but Xena could see the swelling had reduced and his colour where visible, had returned to normal. He was sitting up in bed smiling broadly.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Just pull up a chair and tell me about Gabrielle. The fever is down I hear? She woke up.”
Xena nodded. “Yes, finally. We’re going to look at her hand today.”
Iolaus swallowed and looked away thoughtfully. There was a pause before he said, “I’m sorry. It’s bad isn’t it?”
Xena was aware of the door opening but she kept her eyes fixed on Iolaus. She nodded.
“Watching a friend suffer, hearing her suffer,” Iolaus’ voice broke. “It was tartarus.” He flicked her eyes over Xena’s shoulder and gave a small smile. “I’ve been injured enough times before helping out the big man, so that didn’t matter. But knowing what they did to her, what he did to her-“Iolaus shut his eyes.
Hercules walked forward and put his hand on Xena’s shoulder. “Good to see you out.”
Xena smiled weakly. There was silence. Hercules and Iolaus exchanged a glance.
“Xena, Ephiny has asked us to go before council.” Hercules looked uncomfortable.
“Even you?” she asked Iolaus.
“I offered. Piri said I could get up today. I want them to know what happened, that you weren’t in control of your actions, that I don’t blame you. I know Ephiny doesn’t want Gabrielle to go through it. I want them to know exactly whose fault it was.”
“Solari has sent scouts out to find Lindos and Claudine,” said Xena quietly. “We’ve not told Gabrielle yet.”
The men nodded. Hercules walked over to a table that heaving under a mass of wineskins, fruit and weapons.
He handed them both a drink. “Presents from Iolaus’ many admirers.” He grinned. “I’m wondering how long Iolaus can eke this out. Being pampered by a tribe of women is his Elysian Fields.”
Xena smiled weakly. She felt a twinge of envy. Iolaus looked so well; and now there was talk of him getting out of bed. He appeared contented and revelling in the affection and interest of many Amazon visitors. He was talking about his ordeal. Gabrielle’s recovery appeared to be proceeding along at snail’s pace by comparison.
Hercules seemed to sense her change of mood but mistook the reason behind it. “The council, the hearing. You’ll be fine. The challis has a long history. “
Xena gazed at her drink. “I’m not worried for me. It’s Gabrielle.”
“They are her amazons. You can see it with every action they take. They’ll support you. They know they’ll face her if they don’t!”
“You’re right. Now I better get back to her.” She downed her drink. “Good to see you guys.” She got up and headed out the door. Hercules and Iolaus exchanged a concerned look.
Epinon stood inside the Queen’s hut staring at the floor. She watched as Piri bustled around tidying the equipment. Sensing the weapon’s master discomfort she made her excuses and left the hut. Epinon continued to stand by the door looking pensive. Her tension was palpable.
Gabrielle smiled weakly. “Pony I’m sorry I don’t think I’ll be coming to you. Why don’t you come here?”
Epinon looked up briefly and then dropped her head and walked slowly to the chair by the bed. She eased herself in it and appeared to be taking her time to compose herself. Gabrielle watched, not wanting to interrupt, knowing that some people, warriors especially, needed to talk in their own time.
“I’m so sorry, my queen. I can’t express my disappointment and disgust in myself adequately.” Her voice was so quiet Gabrielle strained to hear. “Whatever punishment you or council see fit won’t be enough.”
“Pony.” The dark head remained bowed so Gabrielle tried again. “Pony, there is nothing to apologise for because there is nothing to forgive.”
“How can you say that, when you are lying in bed, injured because of what I did?” Pony spoke with fervour and raised her head and caught Gabrielle’s eye. She saw no hatred in it, only concern.
“I’ve said it to Xena and will say it to you and the other Amazons. You weren’t in control. This is not your fault.”
Epinon rubbed her hand through her hair.
“But it’s not about me is it?”
Epinon looked up sharply and slumped, tears springing in her eyes. She took several deep breaths and faced Gabrielle.
The bard smiled. “No one will know through me. And Xena hasn’t mentioned it,” she added in answer to Epinon’s questioning eyes.
“Thank you, my queen.”
“Enough of that nonsense. Please put it behind you Pony.”
“I will if you will.” Gabrielle gave her a forced smile and Epinon felt a prickle of unease that she couldn’t put her finger on.
“Can I get you anything? I really am sorry.”
“I’m fine thank you. How’s Sol?”
“Supportive as usual.” Epinon’s face lit up with affection as she spoke about her beloved.
“Just keep it that way.” Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them. “Pony can you do something for me?”
“Anything. Name it.”
“Tell me Epinon,” said Gabrielle quietly, and the weapons master had a sudden feeling of being completely trapped and powerless.
All four people within the hut felt the tension even before Piri unwrapped the bandage. Clonie stood by Piri as the healer gently took the bandage off. Xena was on Gabrielle’s left side and rubbed her hand on her arm. The bard smiled in gratitude. Gabrielle shut her eyes and beads of sweat formed on her forehead as Piri got closer to removing the entire bandage. Xena inhaled sharply when she saw the injured hand and said, “Bri, we need to see if there is any nerve damage. I’m going to gently press on places. That’s why we couldn’t give you any pain medicine.”
Gabrielle kept her eyes shut and nodded. She stifled a moan as Xena started pressing down but a couple of screams came out despite putting her right hand over her mouth. Xena looked up at the pale sweaty face and exchanged a concerned glance with Piri. The healer smiled and said, “You seem to have most of the feeling in it. The swelling has gone down; we need to put the bones back. It’s looking a lot better.”
Clonie looked at the smashed hand and imagined what it must have looked like a few days ago. She could feel bile rising in her throat, and it took all her training to remain motionless. It must be absolute agony for the bard.
“Pressure points?” Gabrielle gasped.
“Yes, but the pain afterwards…” Xena trailed off.
“Do it,” said the bard through gritted teeth.
Xena quickly tapped her fingers in the crook of Gabrielle’s elbow. She then held her hand straight and Piri pushed down a couple of times until she heard several cracks. She did the same for Gabrielle’s wrist. They quickly re-bandaged the hand, and Piri went to get some pain mixture. By this time all four women looked very shocked and weary.
“What happened to it?” said Clonie, and then looked embarrassed at asking such a question.
“Claudine took the hammer to it,” said Gabrielle through gritted teeth.
Xena shut her eyes. Gabrielle spoke so casually as if it had been an every day occurrence. She felt another wave of guilt hit her.
“The good news is it looks better than I thought it would. It’ll be very painful for a while, stiff for several months, but you’ll get most of your movement back.”
“Most?” chorused Xena and Gabrielle.
“Who knows, maybe all,” said the healer, although privately she doubted that. Thank the gods it was her left hand and not the right. “Ready?”
Gabrielle nodded. Clonie held her arm tightly and Xena stabbed her fingers in again. This time Gabrielle couldn’t stifle her scream and it was long and loud. Xena wrapped her arms around her and held her tight rubbing her back and whispering soothing words. When the bard had stopped sobbing Xena gave her the medicine that Piri had mixed. The older healer wordlessly put her hand on her shoulder in support and the two amazons left.
After several minutes, when she sensed the rhythm of the bard’s breathing had changed, Xena released her hold on her. Xena’s eyes too were wet with tears. There was silence with only Gabrielle’s deep and noisy breathing breaking it.
“I didn’t know Claudine did it,” said Xena quietly.
Gabrielle shrugged but said nothing.
“Her and Lindos, they have so much to answer for,” carried on Xena continuing to stare at Gabrielle. “They’ve caused you so much pain.”
Gabrielle continued to say nothing. Those feelings of being used and feeling worthless bubbled to the surface but she pushed them back again. She didn’t want to think about them or discuss them.
Xena continued to stare aware of what the bard was doing. After all she spent years ignoring her emotions, burying them deep so she wouldn’t have to face up to her self loathing and guilt. She couldn’t let that happen to her bard.
She tried a different approach. “If you are up to it, you might want to jot things down. I’ve got some of your scrolls and a quill.” Xena walked over to the table and brought them back and laid them on the bed. She then picked up Gabrielle’s right hand. Gabrielle looked at them for a while but made no move towards them.
“I’m a bit tired Xena, but thanks.” Gabrielle tried to move down the bed and Xena helped her. Instead of closing her eyes she merely stared upwards. Xena said nothing but continued to hold her hand.
Ephiny looked around the crowded council chamber. She had wanted to keep the numbers to the minimum, but somehow several amazons had good reasons why they should be present. Her eyes caught Aella’s and saw the same concern in them; this was turning into a circus out of their control.
The council was made up of seven amazons. As Queen, Gabrielle had a seat and as her regent so did Ephiny. When Gabrielle was absent Solari stepped into Ephiny’s place as regent, with Ephiny taking the Queen’s role. The other five members were made up of warriors. They tended to discuss punishments and treaties, although it was the Queen’s word that was final.
After Valasca’s attempted coup, the tribe was split. It took all Gabrielle and Ephiny’s collective diplomacy to keep the tribe united. There was mistrust and bitterness between all factions. A handful were reluctantly banished by Gabrielle after Ephiny persuaded her that they were a de-stabilising influence and would try to unsettle the tribe and even challenge the mask in Valasca’s name. However several Valasca supporters stayed, swore fealty to Gabrielle but remained unhappy at the direction the Amazons were going; greater links with the centaurs, more ties with the outside world, including men. Gabrielle and Ephiny especially had to work hard to ensure they remained together.
Aella brought down a hammer onto the table. “Hush please.” She looked around the crowded room. “We are here to discuss the recent events concerning our queen. THIS IS NOT A TRIAL!” She paused to let her words sink in and glared around the courtroom. Ephiny smirked; Aella was a wolf in sheep’s clothing; all those who thought she was a pushover were sorely mistaken. She saw that Xena remained passive. She was flanked by Epinon and Delia.
“I will ask different people to come forward and speak. The seven members of the council can interrupt, but only they can ask a question.”
Aella sat down and before she could speak again Teles spoke up. “Thank you Aella. I know I am looking forward with interest in finding out what happened to our beloved Queen. Our Queen that is so badly injured that she is unable to be here today. Let us remember that.” She bowed her head briefly and Aella mouthed sorry to Ephiny who looked furious with how proceedings had begun. Teles was one of Valasca’s most fervent supporters and surprised many by choosing to swear fealty to the crown. She had never put a foot out of place yet Ephiny couldn’t trust her, especially as she gained a voice on the council. She was a fine orator, and would ensure that the trial would go in the influence of her choosing. In this case to condemn Xena.
“And Iolaus. I am sure you are in considerable pain, we thank you for attending.”
Teles looked around the whole chamber. She wanted things to hold sway for a while longer. “Aella, I realise that there are many witnesses that we will hear evidence from but do you think maybe Xena should be first? She has the greatest insight to what happened, and of course I am sure she wants to return to caring for the queen.” Her voice may have sounded sincere and she looked naive but it fooled no one.
Aella looked furious. She realised what Teles was doing. Mentioning the Queen meant that if Aella had objected she would appear to be the unsympathetic one. That was why the majority of people had attended; to hear Xena speak. Everyone’s testimony then would be of little interest. As Ephiny had said previously it was not that Xena was likely to go to trial; but the fallout caused by it for the tribe as a whole.
Xena had risen before any complaints could be made. She had her mask firmly fixed on place and stared at Teles who, to her credit did not back down from a powerful blue eyed stare.
“Xena,” said Teles.
“Yes,” replied the warrior Princess.
“Why is Queen Gabrielle not attending this hearing?”
“Because of injuries she has sustained, she is confined to her bed. She has just recovered from a life threatening fever.” At that there were gasps. It was not widely known that Gabrielle had been so ill.
“How did she come about these horrific injuries?”
Xena closed her eyes. “Iolaus and her broke into a camp to destroy the challis of Hectate. They were discovered and taken prisoners and tortured for any information they may have had.”
“And you were in that camp?”
“You helped to recover the challis?” Teles asked innocently.
Xena bowed her head, “No.”
“Why were you in that camp, Xena?” asked Teles neutrally. She knew she couldn’t be too gleeful in her questioning.
“I drank from the challis of Hectate. I became controlled by darkness and joined an army formed by the people who had the challis in their possession.”
“Did you see our queen in the camp?”
“Yes,” Xena’s voice betrayed none of her anguish.
“Did you speak to her? Did you touch her?” Teles moved around the chamber ensuring she had everyone’s attention.
“We know that Xena was there, Teles,” said Ephiny desperate to deflect the line of questioning.
Teles turned to face the regent and gave her a cold smile. “I was merely establishing whether Xena had any contact with our queen.” She turned back to face Xena who stared back at her.
“You touched her by your own admission. Did you hurt her?”
Everyone within the room held their breath. The silence was deafening until Xena broke it. “Yes,” she said.
“Did you torture her?” Teles faced the wall so no one could see the smirk on her face. She was finally reeling the warrior princess in.
“Yes,” Xena’s whisper was full of anguish.
“I am sorry Xena can you repeat that?” Teles said.
“I was at that camp. I tortured Gabrielle and Iolaus.” This time the voice was loud and steady. There were gasps and murmurings within the court.
“I don’t think we need to go in to specific details at present, although we will return to it.” Teles smiled frostily at Xena. “Xena you have previously tried to kill Gabrielle haven’t you.”
Ephiny stood up, “This is not relevant.”
“Forgive me Regent but I think it is. Xena had previously tried to murder Gabrielle in front of many of us sitting here today. Something she has never denied and yet never been punished for.” Teles gave a little shrug. “Did you at any time try to kill Gabrielle? Not just injure her, but kill her?” Teles looked around the hushed chamber and finally at Xena who was staring into space. She turned to meet Tales’ look.
“Yes I put the pinch on her.”
“Why is she not dead? Does Gabrielle know how to remove the pinch?”
“No she doesn’t.” Xena swallowed. “Lindos, one of the couple who originally threatened us, and used the challis to bring out my-“Xena stumbled over the word, “darkness liked her and asked me to take the pinch off.”
“He liked her. Did he want her to be part of the army of darkness?” Teles looked innocently at Xena.
“No, he just, he wanted her,” said Xena with great difficulty. Any thought of Lindos and Gabrielle brought her so much pain and anguish as well as guilt.
Teles put her hands to her mouth in a great dramatic display. “Oh I am sorry. I didn’t want to bring up thoughts of an attack of that nature. I merely wanted to establish whether Xena attempted to kill the Queen. Again. I have established that she did, but instead of stopping it herself she was persuaded by a man who was after, er, the queen’s virtue.”
There was much talking amongst everyone. Ephiny slumped in her chair and put her hand to her eyes. Teles knew what she was doing. She watched Teles smirk as she saw the discussions and the looks of horror and disgust thrown at Xena.
Epinon stood and shouted. “SHE WASN’T THE ONLY ONE WHO WANTED TO HAVE HER KILLED.”
There was silence. Epinon spoke quickly before Teles could open her mouth. “When we caught Iolaus and Gabrielle, Xena and Claudine wanted to torture information out of them.” She looked at Xena. “I suggested just killing them there and then.” She glanced at Solari who gave her a supportive look in response. “But Xena wanted to keep them alive. I even went to them early morning, ready to slit their throats but Xena stopped me before I could.” Epinon stood up straight as an arrow. “I would have killed them had it not been for her. I took part in torture, I broke Gabrielle’s ribs, I whipped her, and I punched her with my bare hands.” She lowered her head so her tears were not visible.
“So did I,” said Amarice, standing up. “Queen Gabrielle gave me an order to stop hitting Iolaus, but I ignored her.”
“I hit Iolaus with my bare hands.” Selene turned to the blonde man with tears in her eyes. “I am so sorry.”
“ENOUGH OF THIS” shouted Teles, her voice laced with frustration. This was not how it was supposed to be going.
“It is Xena who I was questioning.” She waited for silence. “She has to face up to the fact she has several times tried to murder our queen.”
“And yet I am still here,” came a voice from the door.
Every head in the chamber turned to see Gabrielle standing shakily in the doorway, leaning heavily on a walking stick. No one knew how long she had been standing there.
Everyone rose as one in silence. Gabrielle stood motionless, until Piri walked up to her with a furious look on her face. She took a chair and Gabrielle eased herself onto it without a change in her expression. She looked around the chamber and her expression softened as she saw the furious looks on Ephiny and Xena’s faces.
“Sit down please.”
Everyone did but there was silence. No one was quite sure what to do next, but it was Teles who recovered her wits quickest.
“My Queen, it is good to see you up. I trust you are feeling better.”
“Teles, thank you for your deep concern into my health. I would prefer to be recuperating in my hut, but it would appear my healer, regent, chief scout, weapons master and consort were all otherwise engaged.” She caught Xena’s slight smile. “I thought I would see where the party was.”
There was a low murmur of laughter.
“We did not want to interrupt your recuperation. We wanted to spare you the torment of attending and listening to such unpleasantries.”
Gabrielle stared at Teles and her voice suddenly took on a steely tone. This was the queen of the Amazons who spoke and everyone realised it. “I lived those torments as did Iolaus, Xena, Selene, Amarice and Karys. None of us will ever forget what happened. I have said already to Epinon and Xena and will say to the other three. There is nothing to forgive. They had no choice in what happened. The Gods themselves knew about the power of the challis. There will be no trial. There will be no disciplinary. We do not need to continue with this information gathering event, or whatever you have called it. We have all suffered enough. Re-visiting it will not help anyone.”
Gabrielle’s words were powerfully delivered and had an effect on everyone in the room. Teles looked around frantically. All the advantage she had built up was slipping away. She sought at least to be gracious. Anything else would appear insolent. “My Queen, your bravery has astounded us all. If this is your wish to put it behind you so be it.”
Ephiny stood up and said, “Your bravery doesn’t quite astound all of us, my queen, but I second the motion. Epinon, Karys, Selene, Amarice and Xena,” she emphasised the last name, “are free of any blame. This is not to be used or brought up again if they ever come for disciplinary or promotion. That is all.” She glanced at Teles who wore a forced smile, and was obviously furious by how events had unfolded. She knew that Teles and her followers would not forget this, and would view today as a bitter defeat. They may have got some cheap shots on Xena early on, but Gabrielle had proved to be the star turn.
She watched as Gabrielle rose unsteadily from her chair. The whole room rose, still stunned by their Queen’s impassioned speech. The amazons made their way out, many taking time to quickly exchange words with Gabrielle who smiled and thanked everyone for their concern. Epinon and Gabrielle shared a meaningful glance that ended when Gabrielle winked at the weapons master. After several minutes had passed the only people left in the chamber were Gabrielle, Xena, Ephiny and Piri. Xena strode forward and wrapped her arms around the bard and gently picked her up. “I don’t care what you say; you’re going back first class.” She kissed Gabrielle’s forehead.
“You never cease to amaze me, Gab,” said Ephiny, taking Gabrielle’s hand. “And for that I am grateful. I’ll be in to see you later.” She smiled and left.
“Ok hit me with it you two,” said Gabrielle and swallowed. “I know you want to.”
Piri walked up to the pair of them and looked at Gabrielle with a neutral expression. “I have never been more annoyed at a patient, or more proud of a friend.” Her face broke into a broad smile. “I’ll leave you in the very capable hands of the warrior.” She raised her eyebrows at Gabrielle and left.
Gabrielle craned her head to look into the face of the warrior. It was impassive. “Hut. Now,” was all she said.
Gabrielle was carried back to the hut in silence. Although whether she would have heard anything above the shots of joy and applause she received every step of the way was debateable. Xena gently placed her into bed and turned to get pain medicine. She had felt the tenseness of the bard’s body and wanted to give her a dose quickly. It also gave her a few extra seconds to think, and sort out her thoughts.
“Xe, please. Talk to me,” said the Bard.
Xena walked to the bed and handed Gabrielle the mug. She downed the drink in one and made a face. Xena took the mug and walked back to the table.
“Xena, please, yell at me, tell me how wrong I was, anything.” Gabrielle’s voice broke and she started to sob. In a flash Xena was perched on the bed with Gabrielle in her arms. “I want to tell you what a risk you took. How annoyed I am that you obviously went behind my back to arrange this? That all we wanted to do was to protect you and you could have ruined it. But all I can think of is how brave and courageous you are, and that I am so lucky to share my life with you.” At this Gabrielle gave a hic-cough and a sob and Xena carried on rubbing circles on her back. “Before you, I trusted no one. I’d been hurt or betrayed too often. And you came in my life and I felt trust and love of life again.” Xena pulled back slightly and looked Gabrielle in the eye. “Yes we lost that for a short while, but there is no one I trust more than you.” The hut was quiet apart from Gabrielle’s sniffs.
“Me too Xena, me too.” She said quietly.
Xena cupped Gabrielle’s face, “Then trust me. Open up to me.”
Gabrielle put her head on Xena’s shoulder. “It’s so hard.” She started to sob more violently.
“I know, I know.” Gabrielle continued to cry for several minutes and Xena said nothing apart from soothing “shh”.
“I always thought our bond would transcend everything. It survived when you died,” Gabrielle looked at Xena and smiled through her tears. Xena squeezed her hand gently. “I know wasn’t your fault Xena, but-“
“Why couldn’t I remember you? Why couldn’t I remember us? You meant nothing to me?” Xena bowed her head. “I’m so sorry.”
“No I am. I blamed you for not remembering me. That wasn’t your fault.” Gabrielle swallowed and looked away. “I’m scared Xena. I don’t want to feel like this any more.”
“What way, Bri?”
“That I’ll never feel normal again. That I’ll never be able to put it behind me.”
“Time’s a great healer. And you’re the one that says talking helps. Take your own advice, Bard.”
“I know,” she said wistfully.
Xena smiled. It was a good day. The Valasca faction was shown up. Gabrielle’s stock as Queen had risen and she had started to open up. For the first time Xena could sense light at the end of a long difficult tunnel.
Xena finished her drilling and took a long drink from her water skin. She watched the village break into life. She enjoyed her morning exercise early, so she was not bothered by too many amazons eager to take her on. Some, well they obviously hadn’t learnt from Aida and Charope, and decided their own bit of retribution. Xena never minded, to her it was a slightly more vigorous workout; the hardest part was ensuring she did not injure them too badly.
She jumped up and headed to the bathing hut and emerged carrying a large tub. She was going to suggest a bath to the bard. Gabrielle was recovering slowly, slower than Xena would have liked. She was able to sit up for longer periods and Xena was hoping that today she could go for a short walk. Her ribs were virtually healed and her hand was improving although still very painful. One particular concern was that her voracious appetite had not returned.
Xena carried the tub and put it down with as little noise as possible. Good, she thought, the bard was still asleep. She went in and out of the hut with buckets gradually filling the tub and ensuring the water pot on the fire was full. She kept adding the hot water to the tub and refilling the pot. It was tedious tiring task and when she finished she slumped down on a chair and was greeted by a wide smile from the now awake bard.
“How long have you been awake?” she asked as she moved to the bed. She knelt on the floor and brushed her hand through the bard’s golden hair. “Long enough to see you work up a sweat,” said the bard laughing. “I truly hope that’s for you,” she sniffed deeply just for effect.
“Ha ha. You could have helped me, given me some encouragement,” Xena said lightly.
“Nah, it was worth it just to see you try and curse quietly.” Xena’s eyebrow rose up. Gods she loved this banter. It was beginning to come back slowly, part of the healing process.
“How do you feel about having a bath, Bri?” Xena was hesitant but hopeful. Gabrielle loved a bath.
Gabrielle nodded her head warily. Xena
quickly added,” I don’t have to be here, if you’d prefer someone else, or I can
”No,” said Gabrielle, firmly. “I mean I’d like you here please.” She tilted her head towards Xena to emphasise the point. Xena smiled. She watched as Gabrielle moved up the bed and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She helped her take her shift off and unwrap the bandages. When they had all been removed she took Gabrielle’s right arm and they slowly walked to the bath. She picked her up and gently lowered the bard into the warm water, and Gabrielle winced as the water touched her wounds.
The bard closed her eyes and spread her arms out in the water. “This is bliss,” she said, and breathed the scented herbs in deeply. When she opened them she saw a smiling Xena sitting on the floor next to the tub, looking at her, holding a sponge. She smiled and took the sponge and started to wash herself. It was the first bath she had since being captured and she washed her self thoroughly, enjoying the feeling of being clean. Xena had been very attentive in washing her, but this was bliss.
Xena’s tentative voice broke into her thoughts, “I can do your back and hair if you’d like?” Gabrielle gave her the sponge and was rewarded with a smile. She knew that Xena was desperate to do anything she could for her, as well as try to re-establish the close bond that had been damaged. Sometimes Gabrielle felt oppressed by Xena’s actions or slipped into an introspective mood that couldn’t be breeched. She knew it hurt Xena, but she couldn’t control her mood swings. So when she was feeling content Xena would be as attentive as possible.
“That’s lovely,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt much now.”
Xena smiled weakly, “They’ll be some scarring.” She paused and said in a brighter tone, “I was thinking that we could leave the bandages off. Sounds good?”
Gabrielle nodded. There was a long silence. Gabrielle watched as her right hand made patterns in the water. She looked at Xena and then back at her hand.
“Xena, do you think I’ll ever feel clean again?” Gabrielle’s voice became a hoarse whisper, “I feel his hands touching me.” The six words were whispered so quietly that Xena just heard them. She said nothing but let Gabrielle carry on shakily. “I close my eyes and I see him leering at me. I feel used, unclean,” she looked at Xena and then bowed her head, “unworthy.”
“Gods, Gabrielle, don’t ever feel that. I love you.” Xena immediately dropped the sponge and held her while the tears came. Another part of the wall Gabrielle had erected around herself was crumbling, she thought.
She gently lifted Gabrielle’s face so it faced hers. “And this changes nothing about how I feel about you. In fact I love you even more.” She held on until Gabrielle pulled away slightly. The bard gave a smile and said, “Hair please.”
“Yes your highness,” said Xena and she washed Gabrielle’s hair gently paying attention to the scalp giving it a gentle massage.
“S’wonderful,” murmured Gabrielle. Xena playfully splashed her.
“Don’t fall asleep on me; I want to re-dress your hand. Then it’s breakfast and after that I thought we’d take a walk to see Iolaus, Hercules and Joxer before they go the centaur village, then to the stables to see Argo. She’s been asking to see you.” Xena had moved to the bed and positioned the towels ready for Gabrielle and was now waiting at the side of the bath.
“Argo’s been asking for me?” said Gabrielle incredulously. “What worries me is that I’m more surprised that about the me part than the asking!”
Xena laughed. “Every time I go into the stable she looks past me as if she expects to see you.” She had lifted Gabrielle to the bed and was helping to towel her dry.
After checking all her wounds, Xena helped Gabrielle put a shift on and then sat behind her on the bed and plaited her hair.
By the time she was finished Gabrielle was breathing deeply with tears in her eyes.
“You’ve done really well,” said Xena, “it’s going to take time to gain your fitness back.” She saw that Gabrielle was holding her hand gingerly.
“I’ll wrap it now,” she said tenderly “and then breakfast. What do you fancy? And don’t say nothing.” She added quickly.
The bard thought for a moment. “Fruit would be good,” she said with a smile. “And Xena, thank you.”
Xena gave her a huge toothy smile, “my pleasure,” she said with conviction.
Iolaus positively beamed when he saw who was standing at his door. “Well look at you on your feet. How does it feel?”
“Tiring,” said Gabrielle as Xena guided her over to a chair next to Iolaus. She slumped in it and closed her eyes. “I feel like I’ve walked to Athens and back, not just across the village.”
“It was your first time up, you did better than I thought you would,” said Xena defensively handing the bard a drink. She never found out just how or who helped Gabrielle to the council chamber-Gabrielle wouldn’t say and certainly no one would admit to it and incur Xena’s wrath- but she had established that Gabrielle did not walk there. This had been the bard’s longest walk since her injury. Gabrielle smiled in gratitude and downed the apple juice quickly.
“How are you feeling Iolaus?” Gabrielle took his offered hand.
“Bored. I feel so well. It’s so frustrating not being able to be up more. Especially with the nice views on offer.”
Gabrielle smiled broadly and gently backhanded his stomach. Xena sniggered and left them to chat. She knew where Hercules was and joined him, sitting on the steps outside.
“How’s he really doing?” she asked pointedly, knowing the demi God had overheard them.
“Actually not bad. The leg is the major problem. He’s eating and drinking well, never had a fever and his wounds have healed nicely. He still has nightmares but I don’t think he realises how bad his leg is.” Hercules threw a stone he was holding onto the ground.
“He won’t be able to fight, you know. Not to the level he did. And travelling will be hard. Believe me, I know” Xena looked at the demi god with compassion. She realised he already knew that.
“I know. But we’ll cope. We can both make adjustments, even settle down, maybe.” Xena looked surprised.
“Really, I thought you liked your life?”
“I do, but the best part is having Iolaus in it. If settling down is what it takes, that’s what we’ll do. Trouble can find me for a change!” Hercules turned to look at Xena. “It may not come to that though, Iolaus is…stubborn. If anyone can come back from this it’s him.”
“You’re right” said Xena and gave a long thoughtful look inside the hut.
“You know you can redeem yourself wherever you are. You don’t have to travel around for that.” Hercules spoke quietly. There was a pause. He too looked inside the hut and whispered, “How is she?”
“Her hand is very painful. It’ll pain her for the rest of her days. Everything else is healing well, physically.” Xena’s voice dropped on the last word.
Hercules gave her an encouraging smile, so Xena continued, eager at last to share her anxiety with someone.
“I know it’ll take time, but I feel like we’re drifting on the sea. Sometimes she drifts closer like this morning and then the wind will change and we’ll be farther apart. I just wish she’d open up more. I just want to help.” Her head drooped and Hercules gave her arm a squeeze.
“Come on lets go see them.” He jumped up and held his hand out for Xena.
Joxer came running up to them as they entered the hut. His eyes lit up when he saw Gabrielle.
“Hey Gabby, good to see you,” he said nervously.
Gabrielle smiled. “Hey Joxer. I keep hearing all the good stuff you’ve been doing working with Piri. You seem to have your own fan club.”
The apprentice healer looked embarrassed and looked down at his feet. “I wouldn’t say that. But it has been good working with Piri. She has taught me a lot.”
Iolaus guffawed and Gabrielle slapped him quickly on the stomach again, and gave him a stare. She had sensed that Piri and Joxer had become close, but didn’t want her friend humiliated. “Iolaus was going to show me his carvings, weren’t you?”
“Oh yes Gab. Sure Gab.”
“I’ll get them,” said Hercules. He brought back a large bag and emptied it on the table that Gabrielle and Iolaus were sitting around.
“Wow,” said Xena as she walked over to the table and picked up a beautifully carved horse.
“Told you I was bored,” said Iolaus with a laugh.
“You did this,” said Xena in a surprised tone. “It’s fabulous. I never knew you were a carpenter.”
“I have many skills,” said the short blonde man causing them all to laugh.
Gabrielle had picked up a mug and a plate and was admiring the detail on them.
“Talented, isn’t he?” Said Hercules, proudly. “And at least he’s been earning our keep. These are all requests.”
“I’m surprised the Amazons are letting you leave; how will the village function without you?” said Xena.
They all smiled, but she could see that Gabrielle was looking tired and Iolaus’ smile was forced and he appeared to be in pain. “Come on, I think its rest time for side kicks.” The two wooden items thrown at her, which she predictably caught, told her how much they appreciated the remark.
Author’s postscript: Dear reader I ask for acceptance of two indulgences. The first is this chapter is longer than anticipated, and the second is the appearance of a court situation. I have watched far too much “Perry Mason”. I hope neither affected your enjoyment of this chapter.
To be concluded in Chapter five.
Return to the Academy